Michael G. Malaghan
Special to The Hawai‘i Herald
Editor’s note: We continue Michael G. Malaghan’s serialized historical novel, “Picture Bride — A Family Saga,” based on the Japanese immigrant experience. Malaghan’s trilogy takes readers from turn-of-the-20th-century-Japan to Hawai‘i in the picture bride era; the Islands during World War II, highlighted by the exploits of the Nisei soldiers; and beyond.
The novel, which is now available as a printed softcover book, opens with 12-year-old Haru-chan, fleeing her home in Amakusa, Kyüshü, for Hiroshima, where she becomes the picture bride of a Buddhist priest in Hawai‘i.
Author Michael Malaghan is a retired businessman who divides his time between Hawai‘i, Georgia and Japan.
The cough from the bedroom sent a shiver down Haru’s spine. Her husband’s latest bout of the flu had dragged on for weeks. Ignoring the sound of a car rumbling to a halt in front of the house, she stood up from her Singer sewing machine to check on Kenji. But when two car doors slammed shut, sounding like gunshots, followed by the fast clip of two pairs of shoes smartly hitting the concrete stones leading to her porch, Haru turned her attention to the front door.
She peeked out of the tiny gap between the curtains. FBI. She recognized the “uniform.” Dressed just like in the movies, each man sported a black suit and a black fedora, which they now removed from their heads in tandem. Takeshi had warned her to be prepared for another visit. All Buddhist priests were being interviewed again.
Haru had snapped back at her eldest son. “You mean interrogated.” She padded to the door, opened it and bowed. “The FBI is always welcome in our humble home.”
As the men stepped in, she laid out two pairs of house slippers next to the shoebox. The men paused. One bent down to untie his shoelaces, the other one followed suit.
Haru smiled inwardly. She had mentally rehearsed this moment many times, wondering whether she would ever have the courage to actually follow through with it. On earlier FBI visits, she had allowed agents to simply walk in with their shoes on. She couldn’t help but judge them as uncouth for lacking the courtesy of removing their shoes when visiting a Japanese home.
“Who’s there?” a weak voice rasped from the bedroom.
Haru knew that Kenji’s use of English meant he must have seen the men come up the steps. “It’s Mr. Shivers’ men,” said Haru.
As soon as the special agents entered the living room, their eyes riveted on Emperor Hirohito’s picture. The portraits of the emperor and President Roosevelt dominated the wall space above the Motorola, just as it had in Haru’s and Kenji’s former home in Mö‘ili‘ili. As Haru had anticipated, both men squinted at the embroidered quilt plaque she had stitched after the second FBI visit. If they visited again — and she assumed they would — she knew they would not be able to resist seeing what it said. Like a magnet drawing the men, both stepped closer to read it.
“You have two mothers. Japan who gave you birth, America who nurtured you. You must give your loyalty to the one who nurtured you.”
The men dropped their eyes to the photos of her four sons atop the polished Motorola: Tommy and Kenta in U.S. Army uniforms, Takeshi in his Harvard cap and gown and Yoshio in a McKinley High School football uniform.
The soft shuffle of slippers whispered from the hallway connecting the bedroom to the living room. Kenji walked in slowly, slightly bent. “Gentlemen, we have been expecting you. Has my honorable wife presented you with tea?”
Haru bowed. “Sumimasen,” she said and hurried to the kitchen.
Kenji pointed to his desk. “All of my papers are stacked there in a pile. Of course, you are welcome to check under the bed and inside the garden shed. But, you must open the door slowly or a rake might drop on your head.” He sat down and swept his hand toward his desk in a gesture commanding the men to begin.
Haru came out from the kitchen carrying a tray with a pot of tea and a tin of Lorna Doone cookies.
“What state are you young men from?” asked Haru.
“Missouri,” said the taller agent.
The other agent, his chin sticking down like a shovel, ignored her question. Instead, he intoned in his official voice, “Do you send money to buy kits for Japanese soldiers?”
Haru spoke to the tall agent in her warmest tone. “Missouri? Why, that’s Mark Twain’s home state. My favorite author. Did you know he visited and wrote about Hawai‘i?”
Kenji addressed the second man’s question. “Of course,” said Kenji. “These young men fighting in China have no choice. Sending food and sweaters does not mean we approve of the war. My Chinese friends send kits to the Chinese soldiers. We all take care of our brothers.”
“Ah, I did not know that,” said the tall agent, smiling at Haru. “All I managed was ‘Huckleberry Finn.’”
“My favorite Twain character,” said Haru.
“Do you believe your emperor is a god?” asked the shovel-chinned agent.
“No,” said Kenji. “That’s a Shintö belief. I am Buddhist. And we don’t use the word ‘god’ as Christians do. The emperor is like the father of the nation, like King George VI in England.” Kenji coughed. “The emperor is the embodiment, the soul of Japan.”
The taller agent turned his attention to Kenji. “What will you do if war breaks out between America and Japan?”
“I hope I’ll have enough time to remind my boys to fight for America before you come and arrest me.”
“Your tea . . .” said Haru.
The Missouri man looked at his partner. “We have two more stops to make.”
Shovel-chin took the hint. “We’re finished here.”
The men moved to the front door. An awkward silence ensued as they put on their shoes. Then, with a quick nod, they marched out the front door.
Haru and Kenji sat at the table and drank the tea and ate the cookies. They talked about how polite the men had been. But neither stated what was on their mind: Their sons might die in the coming war.
To be continued . . .